Community Service Opportunity

The people at Toronto Bell Cote Heritage Preservation are holding an open house and orientation session on Sunday November 24 between 1 and 3pm. The purpose is to encourage high school students to learn about and participate in volunteer opportunities with the charity that looks after this important landmark in our neighbourhood. All Ontario high school students are required to volunteer 40 hours to a community organization in order to graduate.

Incidentally, this building is one of the few in the area using geothermal heating and cooling throughout the year.

For more details, contact Subhas Mukhopadkyay at [email protected]

What Are Teachers Fighting For Anyway?

C.R. Marchant, H.J. Alexander, St. John the Evangelist, Weston Memorial, Weston Collegiate, and Pelmo Park. Just off the top of my head, these are all the schools in our area, and very soon the teachers within them may be on strike. The reasons behind this though, may not be for the reasons you think. 

Since the summer, teachers’ unions and the Ford government have been working to come to a fair contract. This comes on the back of several changes to the system including increased class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and the rolling back of the health curriculum (which I wrote about here). The most agreed upon reason why teachers are seeking to strike is that they are asking for higher wages. The mindset usually follows the lines of they already get summers off and now they want to be paid more? 

For anyone who has worked with teachers, they know this is not the case. Teachers are fighting the changes that have been made to the system which they know will adversely affect their students, the very same students who are our children. 

Weston is already a needy area, with a high population of newcomers, English language learners, and the like. One parent with children in the public school system volunteers with one of the schools in our area because they know that teachers have a hard enough time as it is giving students the one-on-one time they need with the current number of students in a class. Many students that they work with are in middle school but reading at a grade 2 level. Increasing class sizes means there will be more of these students who fall through the cracks, and not every school is going to have a volunteer to read with students and they sure do not have the money to hire someone. Teachers know this and are desperately fighting against that outcome. 

“They are fighting for the things that they need and the things that have been taken away.” – A Weston Parent

While the concept of a strike can be intimidating, especially when it feels like our children are being used as pawns, it is important to do our research and come to our own conclusions. 

Elementary teachers will be in a strike position on November 25th. For more information on the bargaining process for secondary teachers, refer to this site.

Shakespeare in Action looking for aspiring dramatists

Shakespeare in Action is offering fall programming for for young people interested in writing and producing theatre. Kids from 4 to 14 can participate in three programs on Saturdays, starting October 19.

Thespian

Young Storytellers – Ages 4-6

Saturdays 9-9:45

Through drama, language arts, movement and music this course is designed to introduce our youngsters to unique ways to express themselves creatively, explore character creation and storytelling.  The course ends in a short presentation for family and friends. Sign Up Here

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Drama Makers – Ages 7-10

Saturdays 10am-11:15am

Through fun-filled play, storytelling, movement, music, and games, this class will give children a vibrant introduction to drama. By creating characters and stories, the course ends in a short presentation for family and friends. Sign Up Here

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Creating Theatre – Ages 11-14

Saturdays 11:30-1pm

In this introductory acting course, young actors will learn to use their voices, bodies and imaginations to learn to creatively express themselves by communicating thoughts, emotions and storytelling. By improvising, puppetry, music, creating characters, writing and exploring texts, the course ends in a short original presentation for family and friends. Sign Up Here

The classes will be at Artscape and cost $120 per child. Prospective students with low incomes can apply for scholarships and subsidies provided by SIA.

 

 

Some thoughts on guns and gangs.

About 75% of shootings in Toronto are gang related. For most Weston Web readers that means little – we’re ok because we most of us don’t live in a gang neighbourhood. For those living in public housing, the fear is real. Many (especially black and male) young people are unable to travel to other neighbourhoods for fear of the consequences of straying into gang territory.

The Mayor and Police Chief can often be found behind a podium expressing dismay at a shooting event and lamenting that while everything is being done, there are no easy answers. At the same time, the head of the police union tells the public that there is an easy answer: more cops; while others want a return to provincially funded programs such as TAVIS.

From the Toronto Star.

This might be wrong on all counts except for the number of cops.  Manchester in the U.K has a similar population to ours and has over a thousand more officers and hundreds more support staff. Manchester’s murder rate (a reliable crime indicator) is 2.44 per 100,000 people compared to 3.11 in Toronto. Incidentally, Chicago – a similar sized city to Toronto and Manchester had a murder rate of 23.8 in 2018.

We’ve known for a while what needs to be done but it’s not easy. Solving this multi-faceted  problem is hard, requires brave and intelligent public officials, doesn’t work overnight and it’s expensive in the short term.

Here’s what we know about gangs.

A gang can provide:

  • a surrogate family.
  • perceived safety and protection.
  • a path to money, success and respect.
  • an outlet for frustration and anger.
  • membership in a community.

Successfully combatting the lure of a gang requires more attractive alternatives and young people need to acquire the education and skills that will allow them to choose a more mainstream lifestyle.

More traditional policing is not the only answer. It’s the difference between treating the symptoms of an illness or actually getting at the cause.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders recently announced a $4.5 million, 11-week program aimed at reducing gun violence. Presumably after 11 weeks, the matter will be taken care of and we can all go back to sleep. In fairness, Chief Saunders is in a tough spot. Every politician is expecting him to do something but without permanent funding, he’s stuck with applying band-aids for short periods of time. As an aside; anyone who can come in to work during home dialysis and after a kidney transplant has my respect.

Clearly we’re at another crisis point and not enough is being done. The Ford government is well on its way to guaranteeing that gang violence will continue. Cuts to the minimum wage and vital services like education, health, housing and school repairs will cause the most damage in poorer neighbourhoods which is where gangs thrive.

From The Hamilton Spectator.

Yes, the Ford government truly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Here’s an example – instead of allowing the minimum wage to rise from $14 to $15, Ford froze the wage at $14 and promised that minimum wage earners would get a (pitiful) tax break. In effect, the Ford government now subsidizes companies who pay low wages (thus increasing the deficit) yet complains that the government spends too much. Deep thinkers at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce predicted that a minimum wage rise from $11.60 to $14 would ramp up unemployment, the cost of living and would lower profits. In fact inflation didn’t budge, unemployment went down while tax revenues and profits were up. It’s counter intuitive but ‘evidence’ apparently doesn’t fit the C of C / Tory dogma. And in the meantime, a living wage is further out of reach, putting more people at risk of choosing a life of crime.

Is the solution to crime putting more people in jail? Yes for violent criminals as their incarceration protects society. Putting people in jail is expensive and surprisingly it does little to discourage crime. For example, the U.S. locks up more of its population than anywhere else on earth yet the murder rate is 5.3 per 100,000 compared to Canada’s 1.8 (2017 figures).  By all means put hardened criminals in jail and reject bail for those accused of a violent crime; however, in the long run, diverting people into better lifestyles benefits society as a whole – and it’s a lot cheaper than jail.

Yes; answers to gang violence take intelligence, political courage and money. These commodities are sadly lacking when it comes to tackling the problem. The public also needs to support the police; get involved and stop protecting criminals.

From The Denver Post.
What the research says we need to do:
  1. Educate parents on the signs of children’s gang involvement.
  2. Disempower gangs through infiltration, police presence and education to make membership in a gang less appealing.
  3. Increase penalties for smuggling and possession of unlicensed / unregistered guns.
  4. Provide more community facilities so that young people can gather safely.
  5. Publicize the 222 TIPS and rewards program.
  6. Increase the minimum wage to liveable levels and keep it tied to inflation.
  7. Provide incentives for top teachers and administrators to work in challenging schools.
  8. Deny public housing / housing subsidies to known gang members. Evict tenants who accommodate known gang members.
  9. Similar ideas from Mark Towhey here.
Guns.

Somehow, the great thinkers south of the border have convinced themselves (and gullible others) that the answer to gun crime is more guns. Thanks to a bizarre misinterpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution, the right to bear arms is enshrined. Naturally, when our neighbour is overflowing with firearms, many make their way here. Handguns being relatively easy to hide are smuggled most often. We also have legitimate collectors and target shooters whose collections are burgled adding to our gun problem.

There has been much talk of a handgun ban in Toronto. Without border guards at the entrances to the city, this is a non-starter. The federal government needs to have the courage to do this nation-wide. There are few compelling reasons for private citizens to own a gun. In the U.S. the most likely victim of a gun in a house is the owner or a family member. There’s no reason to believe that Canada is any different.

Pro Tip: if you know someone with a gun, you can call 222 TIPS and get rewarded if your tip results in a gun being confiscated ($500) or a crime being solved ($50 – $2000). There is absolute confidentiality – even to the point of the (cash) payment.

Nunziata votes against youth hubs

Frances Nunziata voted against building 18 youth hubs, including one in Mount Dennis, at City Council this week.

Library
Image from torontopubliclibrary.ca

The hubs already run at 10 libraries across the city. Each costs about $130,000 a year. Included are a dedicated staff member, and “laptops, iPads, MacBooks, digital cameras, DJ equipment, Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, gaming equipment (PlayStation, Xbox and Wii), board games, and more!”

They offer homework and employment help, workshops, and a place to de-stress.

According to The Star:

“The youth spaces that exist now have proven to be wildly popular.

A briefing note released by library staff earlier this year showed the number of visits to its youth hubs nearly doubled from 2016. That bump, staff said, is because new hubs became available — meaning the more youth hubs the city built, the more youth showed up.

A 2016 survey of participants found more than 70 per cent felt the program increased their feeling of safety and that they felt comfortable asking staff for help, the briefing note says.”

City Staff developed the plan for 20 new spaces in 2018, a year of record shootings.

The annual Toronto Police budget, by way of comparison, is about $1 billion. The cost of repairing the Gardiner will be about $2.3 billion.

Torontonians pay the second-lowest taxes in the GTA. The average residential tax bill in Toronto was $3906 in 2018; across the GTA it was $4773.

The Future Of Full Day Kindergarten Remains To Be Seen

Weston kindergarten students and parents should keep their eyes on the Ford Government. Most recently, they have decided to reevaluate the full day kindergarten program.This program has been in place since 2014. It’s introduction lightened financial burdens on parents, especially those in low income households, by eliminating the need for private daycare and shifting those costs to the government. The current government has promised to keep the program in place until the end of the 2019-2020 school year, but after that it will be looking at reevaluating the situation. The program is an expensive one, at approximately $1.5 billion per year (according to CTV News).Ford, in a press conference on Wednesday, said that “any decision that’s made is going to be better,” regarding the future of full day kindergarten.

In speaking to one Weston parent, they made the connection that implementing full day kindergarten was a “lengthy and thought out process” and that the future of the program should be as well. If the program gets cancelled, and some of that goes to paying a deficit but other parts go into fixing other issues [like oversized classrooms] within our education system then that seems suitable.” Some options the government may consider are subsidies for low income families who will require daycare, as well as evaluating how much time and money will be spent should this program change and whether this is feasible. This announcement also comes on the heels of the PC Government considering removing class cap sizes from kindergarten and primary grades.

Ford has made it clear that there will be consultations regarding full day kindergarten, so keep an eye open for that. You can also call our MPP Faisal Hassan and let his office know how you feel about this development.

Doug Ford Takes A Swing At The Most Vulnerable – Low-Income Students

Doug Ford is back at it again, leaving arguably the most vulnerable with less. Yesterday morning, Ford announced that there would be several cutbacks to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, as well as cutting tuition by ten percent. It seems as though the Ford government is looking to undo things that were put in place by the Liberal party simply for the sake of that, without evaluating the effects it may have.

OSAP funding will be reverting back to the 2016-2017 funding model, which means that low income students in the $30,000 or less per year income bracket, will not have tuition covered through grants anymore, as well as reducing the amount of grants received by those in higher income brackets. The cap for OSAP will once again be lowered from $170,000 per year to $140,000. This also comes with the elimination of the six month grace period, in which students have six months to pay back their loans, interest free, meaning that students will be charged interest on their loans, from the moment they graduate. Furthermore, students will now have to be out of high school for six years, as opposed to the original four, to be considered independent from their parents, and have their OSAP funding be based on the students income.

As for the ten percent tuition drop, this cost is expected to be absorbed by the universities themselves, through cuts to services available to student. Also, students will now have the opportunity to opt out of extra fees associated with their costs of tuition, like student union fees and others that the government deems non-essential. As students opt out of paying these fees, student governments and unions that are democratically elected to improve student life on campus will be left with little to no funding. This creates difficulty in these groups organising workshops to help students network and get jobs, as well as social events to help with stress and mental health problems, like having therapy dogs come in before the exam period to help everyone de-stress.

Many students in Weston come from low-income households, which makes post-secondary education that much more unattainable. Our MPP, Faisal Hassan, is a member of the New Democrats, who campaigned for free tuition for Ontario students. To express how you feel about these changes, you can call Hassan’s office at 416-243-7984. For more information on this, follow this link to be taken to the Government of Ontario Website.